Catching up...

I've received my first award for The Hideaway. My seven-year-old Kate brought this to me a couple days after the book came out.

 

Naturally, it's the best kind of prize. Done novel. Check. 

In case you missed it, I posted photos of the book release party on Facebook--you can find them here. It was a great night, full of new and old friends and great conversation. 

 

On book reviews: 
My general rule for myself regarding reviews is DON'T READ THEM! I do read them if I'm tagged in them however, and I've been tagged in many lately because The Hideaway is the focus of a blog tour right now through TLC Blog Tours. You can see the whole schedule here. It's been really fun to hear people's thoughts of the book, and a few of the reviews have been especially nice to hear because the reviewer picked up on a theme or idea that I hoped would come through to readers. Here are a couple...

"This particular plot has become a classic for a reason – in the hands of a good writer, it makes a powerful (and lovely) story, as it does here in The Hideaway." From Marlene Harris's review at Reading Reality

"The Hideaway and Sweet Bay, Alabama were like additional characters. They held such prominence and beauty in the book, and I loved seeing the history The Hideaway B&B had through the years–first for Mags, then for Sara with Mags, and finally for Sara without Mags." From Heather's review at Bewitched Bookworms.  

I've also had a few late-night texts and early-morning emails from people I know and don't know telling me how much they enjoyed the story and various reasons why. These are so wonderful because usually the person has just finished reading the story and I get their immediate thoughts. One sweet friend who had just closed the book said The Hideaway made her grateful for the beauty and brokenness in her own life. That my story could lead someone to reflect on her life in that way is the highest praise I could get. 

Upcoming events for The Hideaway:
I'll be on Talk of Alabama (Birmingham's ABC 33/40) the morning of May 25 to talk about the book. My first TV appearance! Not nervous at all. (Bites fingernails.)  I have a signing and talk at the Homewood Public Library on July 13, and hopefully another signing or two around Birmingham. I'll let you know details when and if I figure them out. I'll also be talking to a few book clubs either in person or through the magic of FaceTime or Skype. (I'm really excited about doing these!) I'm also working on setting up a signing or two in the Mobile area, so I'll keep you posted on that and any other signings as they come up. 

Hurricane Season:
I turned in my manuscript for my second book a few weeks ago and just received the letter and notes back from my editor! I wasn't expecting it so soon, so it was a total surprise, but a really good one. As soon as I got the email yesterday, I quickly scanned the first part of the letter and was so relieved to see that she liked it! She had only read about 100 pages from a very early draft of the story, and it was a really long time ago, so I had no idea if the story would sit well with her. I've felt a whole new kind of pressure with this one, being the sophomore book. You always hear about authors writing a great first book, then people not being happy with the follow-up. Not that I have any control over how people react to my books, but the goal, obviously, is to continue putting books out there that readers can connect with and that fit together well as a whole. (We want the body of work to be *cohesive* as Tim Gunn would say.) 

Book 3:
I've been thinking ahead to what book I'll do next after Hurricane. (I know, it's crazy to think that far ahead, but since we're already into edits with Hurricane, it really is time to be thinking about what comes next. Plus, I'm getting the itch to write again.) Back in 2015, I was working on another book that I thought might be the follow-up to Hideaway. I decided to go with Hurricane as the follow-up, so this other book is still here with me, and I think I'm going to submit it as my book 3. These characters have stayed in the back of my mind these last couple of years, and I keep thinking about the setting and the premise. I just sent a summary of the story to my agent, and I thought I'd be digging back into the draft of the story, but now it looks like it'll have to wait a few weeks while I work on edits for Hurricane.

Suffice it to say, I'm seriously going to need to work hard these next few weeks of school to get as much done as I can before summer hits and the kiddos are out of school. I long for summer for so many reasons (hello not having to make school lunches at 7am every day) but it's also hard because of the small amount of time I have during the day to write. I think I saw something a few days ago that said my youngest Sela has 17 days of school left. So I have 17 school days to crank out as much as I can! If I can just get myself off Homewood Trading, that'll be a good first step toward not wasting so much time...

Lastly, what I'm reading.

I'm loving Karen White's newest book. And isn't that cover gorgeous? It came out the same day The Hideaway did. She's such a master of telling a great southern story. 

 

I think this will come next. I've read her first two books, The Historian and Swan Thieves, and I've been waiting for another one from her. (The Historian is SO good.) I've read great things about this next novel. 

Hope you all have a great rest of the week as the countdown to summer gets underway...

 

 

 

Update on books!

THE HIDEAWAY
I received my editorial letter in mid-June with a deadline of July 29--two days from now. But I returned it to my editor Karli about a week ago! Her letter was lovely, truly. It was four pages of comments, kind praise, suggestions, and questions. I was incredibly relieved because I've heard of huge editorial letters with pages of changes to be made, including big things like plot points, characters, whole POVs, etc. In contrast, Karli's edits were light. AND YET, the changes/additions she suggested were so sharp and insightful. As I read her letter, I kept nodding, thinking, "Well, of course, this is a great suggestion. Why didn't I think of this?!" In the end, THE HIDEAWAY is even stronger than it was before and I couldn't be happier. I'm SO excited about getting this story out into the world!

Next, Karli will read through the manuscript with my changes, then hand it off to the line editor. If Karli has more suggestions for me, she'll lump them in with the line edits, and I'll get those all back somewhere around the end of August, I think. 

My sweet friend Sara Beth Cobb of Nimblee Design (designer of this website!) creative a super sharp little brandmark for me to use on bookmarks, notecards, whatever needs my "stamp" on it. I'm excited about being able to use it, and the logo (my name) along with it. The thought of self-promotion feels weird and foreign to me, but I know it's part of the job. And Sara Beth has provided me a really classy way to do it ;)

BOOK 2 (tentatively titled HURRICANE SEASON)
I am about 72K words into the manuscript, which is actually pretty far. By comparison, THE HIDEAWAY is about 88K words completed. So, by that word count, you'd think I'm pretty close to being finished. And I am pretty close to being finished...with 2/3 of the story. But that last third has been royally kicking my butt. The story has 3 POVs, and I essentially got really stuck in the weeds with one of the POVs, so I put it on hold while I wrote the other two. I am really liking the rest of the story, but that one character's POV has been beating me in the head these last few months. Thankfully, I'm back with my wonderful writing workshop group and they are helping me untangle the knots in my head and sort this character out. And I think it's working.

My goal is to finish the book by the end of the year. Then I'll have basically 3 months for more revisions. But because of this awesome group of writers I hang out with on Tuesday nights, when I get to the end of the book (before Christmas, please Lord), it won't be a huge mess--it'll actually be in pretty decent shape. 

Other things going on:
School starts, unbelievably, in two weeks. I'm excited about first grade for Kate and 4K for Sela. I think this time next year will find me a little teary, with my baby going on to kindergarten. Time marches on and that's a good thing, but it doesn't mean I don't want to hold onto the reins a little tighter. 

I'm split on how I feel about school starting back up. On one hand, I'm ready to have some of my time back--time to myself after having the kids with me basically all day, every day, and time to write for longer stretches of time. But I'm also really not looking forward to the early morning time crunch: "Hurry, hurry, hurry! Eat breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed, where's your bag" etc etc. And just the chaos of the school year. Summer is a nice break from all that. But there's something to be said for routine and structure--for all of us. 

 

The Hideaway comes out in just a little over a year!!

Seriously. I've been throwing around "a year and a half" but really, it's only about a year and two months. That's crazy. So I need to stop saying a year and a half. Closer to one year sounds much closer. In the interest of full disclosure about how this whole publishing process works, I'll tell you about my first official "work" for my editor! (Other than, you know, writing the book.) She, Karli, emailed me the Advance Marketing and Sales Information sheet. This document will help with the titling and packaging meetings the team will have to discuss, well, how to package my book. The title and cover are so important when selling a book. How many times have you pulled a book off the bookshelf (or the virtual bookshelf on Amazon) just because you like the title or the cover is amazing. That's what we're aiming for. The title has to carry just the right amount of weight, has to hint at the story inside without being too on the nose and giving too much away. On the other hand, you don't want it to be so vague that it doesn't mean anything.

Similarly, the photo and design on the cover needs to evoke the emotions you want the reader to have when they read the book. It has to strike the right chords and mesh with the title well so that the reader has a sense of what they're getting into, but again, it's not so specific that it gives the story away. (Sort of like a movie trailer that tells you way too much. I've seen book covers that show two people hand in hand, kissing, in love--then read on the back cover that the whole book is about whether or not these two people will end up together. Well, thanks, you just showed me on the cover that they in fact do end up together, and happily, so no need to read the book.)

So in this information sheet, they had me brainstorm a lot of title and cover ideas; dig into the themes and ideas in the story; talk about the main characters, their physical appearances and personalities; and think about what emotions and "takeaways" I want the reader to have and feel when reading the story.

I realize this can all sound a little silly--brainstorming emotions--but it was really fun for me to get back into the story and put into words what I actually want my book to say, what I want readers to think of it. I'm so very excited to get The Hideaway (which may not remain the title) out into the world and into your hands!

I gave lots google images of what I have in mind for cover possibilities, as well as other book titles I like that could be similar to what we want for mine. Also, because I tend to be a little long-winded (my 30-second "elevator pitch" for the book is currently at about three minutes), I gave Karli about thirty title possibilities. They said I could use the space to brainstorm, and boy did I. I wasn't sure if it was going to be helpful, or if everyone in that titling meeting would look at each other and think, "what have we got ourselves into with this girl?" But Karli said it was a great jumping-off point and that it'd be a big help. Whew.

So, first assignment done. I'm not sure when the meeting is, but she'll let me know how it goes and what ideas they come up with for title and cover. Hopefully, we'll be thinking along the same lines.

 

How It All Went Down

Everyone knows the process of publishing a book is a long slog. Even I know that and I’m still at the bottom of the hill. Maybe a few steps up from the bottom, but significantly closer to the bottom than I am to the top. I always like to read about how a person goes from hopeful writer to published author—who was a slush-pile standout, who had an awesome connection, who got their agent through a writers’ conference or other face-to-face meeting, who won a contest. Because there may be someone reading this blog who also likes to know the order in which things happened to catapult a hopeful writer into “the publishing world,” I’m going to outline what happened to me. (This is also to have a record for me, so I can look back and remember how all this came about. Because details tend to fly out of my head sometimes.) And first, let me say I always wanted to be one of those slush-pile standouts. I wanted to be able to tell other hopeful writers—“See?! It happened to me, it can happen to you too!” I can still say that (because what happened to me really is sort of random and unorthodox), but it didn’t involve the slush pile. (Although I can’t even count how many query letters I wrote that no doubt languished in slush piles all over New York City. In fact, I still get random rejection emails from agents who are really behind on their query letter reading.)

So, without further ado…

February(ish) 2013—I began writing The Hideaway.

June (ish) 2013—got sort of stuck in the middle and panicked because I loved the story and the characters and I really didn’t want to lose the story, so I enrolled in a Fiction Workshop class at Samford University, taught by the wonderful Denise Trimm. I took two courses of this workshop, which was priceless. Through the workshop (and the writers’ group that came out of this workshop), I was able to hone The Hideaway into something worth sending to agents. I honestly think if it hadn’t been for this group of people, I wouldn’t have had a novel worth anything.

December 2013—finished first draft.

January 2014—began process of editing and revising. Some of this was on my own, but a lot of it was with the workshop/writing group. They gave such valuable feedback at every level. Also sent manuscripts to beta readers—some were other writers, some were just readers.

June 6, 2014—I entered a query critique contest through Writers Digest. I had just barely begun tinkering with a query letter (since I knew I was nearing the end of my revisions). I won the contest and hurriedly went over my query letter, taking out unnecessary words and streamlining it as much as possible, and sent it off to the agent. All she had to do was read the query and send some feedback—that’s all the contest offered—but she said she wanted to see it again once I made her changes. Then she requested the first 50 pages. (Cue mic drop.) I sent them.

June 24—With a burst of excitement due to the first agent’s enthusiasm, I decide to query my TOP CHOICE AGENT! I’d researched her, knew she liked and had repped Southern fiction, and I liked her demeanor and humor on Twitter. I crafted an awesome query personalized just for her (I mentioned something she’d recently said on Twitter), and sent it off. The NEXT MORNING at 6 am, she emailed me back asking me for my full. I ran to the bathroom where my husband was showering, told him she requested the full, and then burst into tears. Happy tears, mind you, but I was elated like nothing I’d experienced in quite a while. (Other than my wedding, the birth of my children, etc.)

After spending a day finetooth-ing the manuscript, I sent it to her. Or I thought I did. I actually sent her a blank email without the manuscript attached. Then I realized it the next day and sent it to her for real. Then I sat back and waited for my ship to come in.

August 6 2014—Top Choice Agent sent a very nice rejection email. She gave helpful feedback that I ultimately, as in several months later, took, but she was kind, and I appreciated that.

August 15 2014—Hadn’t heard anything back from Contest Agent about the requested 50 pages, so I asked if I could send a revised 50 pages (I did this a lot—asking agents if I could send revised partials. Rookie mistake.) She said yes.

Between August and end of the year, 2014—I queried a whole bunch of agents. I started off with the ones I really wanted, as evidenced by my querying my TOP CHOICE AGENT first. I went down the list querying the ones I’d starred as ones I really thought would be a good fit for my type of story. Some people tell you to start with your top choices, others (many others) say to start somewhere in the middle so you can use their feedback to finetune, then query other higher-choice agents. I went with my top choices first because I figured I might as well get them out of the way first, then I could move onto other, more likely agents. I don’t know—I had to pick a route, so I chose that one. Hindsight, and all that, but that’s what I did.

October 2014—I had coffee with Patti Callahan Henry. She is the author of a large handful of lovely Southern novels, and she happens to live in Birmingham. I’d been keeping track of her (in a very non-creepy way) for a while, and finally met her at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. We made plans to meet for coffee. We chatted about life and writerly things, then she asked about my book. I gave her the rundown, and she asked me to send her the query and synopsis. I did, and she emailed and asked if she could send the query and synopsis to an editor friend of hers, Ami McConnell, at Thomas Nelson, a division of Harper Collins. Obviously, I said yes.

November 2014—Patti connected me and Ami. Ami read my query and asked for the full manuscript. I sent it.

November 2014—Contest Agent finally sent a rejection email. She gave feedback similar to what my Top Choice Agent gave.

December 2014—participated in PitMad, a pitch contest on twitter where agents request manuscripts based on a short Twitter-sized pitch. I got several requests. I highly recommend these because they give you a chance to hone your pitches, query letters, and manuscript.

February 2015—Participated in SunVsSnow, another Twitter pitch contest. An agent who requested my manuscript during PitMad (and ultimately rejected it) requested it again. I’d made some revisions, so I sent it on with a note saying she’d read an earlier version. She rejected it again but gave me a key piece of advice—she suggested I cut the first two chapters entirely and start with chapter 3, because that was where the action really started. This resonated with what the very first two agents had told me—so I did it. Manuscript now begins with chapter 3. Much tighter and makes a lot of sense.

Early part of 2015—querying, querying, querying. Never heard back from Patti’s editor friend. I read in Publisher’s Lunch that she moved to another publishing house. I assumed my manuscript had gotten lost in the shuffle.

April 2015—I got an email from Karli Jackson, an editor at Thomas Nelson. She told me the editor friend of Patti Henry had gotten had passed my manuscript on to her before she left the company, saying she liked it and wanted another set of eyes on it. Karli said my manuscript was still bouncing around their offices and she wanted to know if I’d have any luck in the agent department. (Cue mic drop #2.) I told her no agent yet but that I had several partials and a couple fulls out and was hopeful. I asked if I could send her my revised manuscript, since what she had still had those first two chapters I’d decided to cut. I sent her the revised ms.

May 2015—Got a rejection from an agent who had been very promising. Emailed Karli to ask if she had any suggestions for agents she knew who might be interested in my type of novel. (Usually I would never ask an editor that, but this was already an unusual situation and Karli had been super helpful and encouraging. I figured I had nothing to lose, but possibly a good deal to gain by asking.)

June 5 2015—Karli emailed to say my novel would be discussed at the next week’s acquisitions meeting. EEEEKKKK! I got on the horn (as an old boyfriend used to say) and emailed all the agents who had a query, partial, or full and let them know of the development. I put *Editor Interest* in the subject line to get their attention. A couple passed right then, and a few thanked me for letting them know and said they’d read what they had asap.

June 6—I looked at some of the Thomas Nelson authors who write women’s fiction and looked up who their agents were. One name, Karen Solem, stood out, and when I looked her up, I was shocked to find that she was looking for the exact type of story I had written. I didn’t know how I hadn’t run across her in my agent search. So I sent her a query and first three chapters, explaining that my story would be in TN’s acquisitions meeting, and that I was still hoping to find an agent who believed in me and my story.

June 8—Karen wrote me back saying she was very interested in the story and would read asap.

June 9—Karen wrote saying she loved what I sent and set up a time for us to talk the next day.

June 10—we spoke on the phone. She told me she loved the synopsis and first three chapters and offered to represent me. (Eeeekk!) I did what I had been advised by every writer’s blog and discussion thread from here to the moon and told her I needed time to let the other agents know and said I’d give her my answer in two weeks. I could tell she wasn’t too pleased with the wait time! (In hindsight, I should have said I’d give them a few days. If they wanted the story bad enough, they could have made their mind up very quickly!) I also told her I was thrilled she loved the first three chapters, and that I was even more excited to know how she felt after reading the whole thing.

In next two weeks, I waited for answers from agents who had queries/partials, particularly one agent who had a full and who I also thought would be a good fit for me. I’d originally queried her back in May but never heard from her. I’d written her again with “Offer of Rep” in subject line.

June 22—spoke on the phone to the other agent I’d been waiting for. She offered rep. We spoke for an hour and clicked really well. She liked my book a lot, had some suggestions, and hoped to work with me.

(FYI, I was at the beach with my family at this time. Totally freaking out.)

2:00—phone call with Karli and two others at Thomas Nelson. Discussed how my book would fit into their audience and vision. Told them I was trying to decide between Karen and the other agent who had offered me rep. Great conversation that left me super excited. They had not yet made the decision to offer me a contract, but things were looking good.

After a LOT of pacing and thinking and making an actual pro/con list, I decided to work with Karen—she’s been in the business a long time, she’s worked extensively with Thomas Nelson and knows the editors, and everyone I talked to about her (other writers) thought it was a BIG deal that she offered me representation. Called her and gave her the news—she was super pumped. Called the other agent and told her the news—she was disappointed, but said good luck. I decided I did not like being on the other side—the one actually giving the rejection.

July 9 2015—Karli emailed me and Karen telling us the team at Thomas Nelson had decided to move forward with The Hideaway. The next step was to talk to the sales team.

July 29—Karli emailed saying they received all the feedback they needed and everyone was in full support of my little novel! (Eeeeekkk!) They would begin circulating all the necessary paperwork and hoped to send an offer soon.

August 11—morning of both of my kids’ meet the teacher orientations at school and I got a phone call from Karen saying she’d gotten the offer from Thomas Nelson—a two-book deal with the first book coming out spring of 2017, next book a year after that. My brain was fried for the rest of the day.

August 12—spoke to Karli on the phone and had a great conversation. She’s super easy to talk to, very excited about my book(s), and we totally clicked. Couldn’t be more excited! (Thinking back on this conversation even now makes me smile.)

Between August and November I tried to be very patient. Emailed Karen once a month to check in (which means I tried not to sound like a bothersome nag but I really wanted to get my signature on the proverbial dotted line!)

November 9 2015—finally got the actual contract. Read through it, talked to Karen about it, then signed four copies and mailed them back to Nashville. Woohoo.

So where am I now? I am not writing! To be more specific, I’m taking time off from writing—time to enjoy the holidays, read, watch Friday Night Lights, notice Christmas before it passes by and is gone for another year. Just before Thanksgiving, I finished a supremely rough draft of what I’d originally thought would be book two, but now I’m thinking I will work on something else in January—a story I previously started but paused because I thought it was too heavy for a second book. Now though, in light of the pain and grief I’ve seen people go through over the last little while (including my own family as my sweet mom has been diagnosed with the beast of cancer), I’m thinking a book with teeth and meat on its bones is what’s in order. It’s tentatively titled Hurricane Season, and I love the idea of it. (And I’m experienced enough with this sort of thing to know that part of the reason I love it is because I haven’t yet really gotten into it, and any book seems bright and shiny and full of hope and promise before you actually begin writing it.)

Until next time, folks.